Study hard for smooth transition to job market

February 2, 2012

It may no longer be true - if it ever was - that obtaining a degree will guarantee you a job, but being "academically engaged" may mean that students have a smaller chance of being unemployed, in debt and still living at home after graduation.

A new US study, "Documenting uncertain times: Post-graduate transitions of the academically adrift cohort", says that many students fail to develop practical skills in areas such as critical thinking and written communication during their time in higher education.

The authors - including Richard Arum, professor of sociology and education at New York University, and Josipa Roksa, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia - tracked what they call the "academically adrift" cohort, who began their degrees in the 2005-06 academic year, to assess how they had fared after graduation.

They employed the Collegiate Learning Assessment, which is used in the US to determine the "value added" to students' skills by their university experience, and found that those who scored in the bottom quintile were three times more likely to be unemployed than those in the top quintile.

The survey of nearly 1,000 students also revealed that only 6.9 per cent of graduates who were not in full-time education were unemployed. This compares with 8.5 per cent unemployment for the labour force nationally, according to US Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

However, the report's authors note that the graduates they surveyed "entered the labour market during an especially difficult time in the recent economic history of the US".

The fact that graduates are experiencing difficulties in the current financial climate is borne out by the researchers' findings that nearly three-quarters still received financial support from their parents, with 24 per cent still living with them or with other relatives.

Despite this, the reported average income for the students surveyed was $34,900 (£22,220). In contrast, the average starting salary for UK graduates is £19,695, according to data from the Higher Education Careers Service Unit.

The authors said their findings "further reinforce an appreciation of the importance of college academic achievement and performance".

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